When first-semester exams and project deadlines are looming and you’re still leaving lectures in the winter dark, working on your career plans or applying for summer internships may be the last thing on your mind.
But with the Christmas break over, there are actually some important things you can be doing to bolster your job prospects. After all, graduation may seem a long way away but any final year student knows how quickly uni days disappear.
It’s especially hard to think about getting a job when it feels like you’ve only just started uni. But many of the top engineering firms open the application process for their internships and placements – one of the main entry routes to their graduate schemes – in the autumn.
So if you’re on a BEng/three-year course you’ve got less than 12 months to figure out if that’s what you want to do and build up your CV ready for it. Scary thought, isn’t it? But don’t worry because there’s plenty you can do in the meantime.
‘First years should be approaching companies to identify work experience opportunities for the vacation,’ says Sheffield University career adviser Annette Baxter.
‘Even small engineering companies who may not offer formally structured vacation schemes may offer valuable work experience and insights into the practicalities of working in an engineering environment.
‘And even experience in non-engineering organisations can be helpful for trying out different career ideas. Use your vacation to gain valuable and interesting experiences that add to your CV and set you apart from other students.’
If you haven’t yet arranged a work placement and you’re in your second year (or possibly third year of an MEng course), then it’s likely to be too late to apply to the big companies’ schemes if you haven’t already – though it’s always worth checking.
However, there’s still plenty of time to arrange your placement at a firm without a structured internship programme, or to consider more summer work experience.
Start by getting in touch with your university careers service and speak to your tutors about any companies they may have contacts with. ‘Universities are contacted all the time by companies without a permanent recruitment person looking to take on a student,’ says Tamsin Turner, placement officer at Queen’s University Belfast.
Watch out for careers fairs on campus that might introduce you to new companies who are looking for recruits. You can also send speculative letters to firm you think sound interesting. Find out as much as you can about what each company does and write a tailored letter suggesting how you might be of use.
The other thing you can do is think about the societies and clubs you’ve joined at uni and whether they’ll give you the opportunities to demonstrate both your passion for engineering beyond your degree or the chance to build up other skills like leadership or communication. If not, time for some new hobbies.
If the end of uni is in sight, you may well already have interviews in the pipeline and you should hopefully be furiously preparing for those. ‘You can use your university career service to check your applications,’ says Joss Moffatt, careers consultant at Loughborough University.
’If you have an interview, come and see if the service offers mock interviews, especially if you’ve been invited to an assessment centre, which will be new to many people.’
But there’s no need to panic if you’ve not sent off any successful applications. As with placements, many graduate schemes at the biggest firms may already be closed or full, but others will carry on recruiting throughout the year, especially those that advertise specific job roles.
Start taking a methodical approach to looking out for vacancies but also identify other firms you’d like to work for and send them personalised, speculative letters.
‘It’s also important to keep up with your coursework because employers will be interested in how you’re doing,’ adds Moffat. ‘You can [apply for jobs] when you’ve got a gap in your work deadlines.’
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